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It has been over 100 years since English naturalist Charles Darwin first told the world his revolutionary concept about how livings things develop. Evolution through natural selection and adaptation was the basis of his argument as it remains to this day a debated subject by many. Across this nation, a “return” to “traditional” values has also brought the return of age old debated topics. One issue that truly separates Americans is the issue of creation versus evolution. Since the 19th century, this divisive topic has been debated in school boards and state capitols across America. In many instances

religious fundamentalists won the day by having banned the instruction or even the mention of “ungodly” evolutionary thinking in schools. With today’s social and political climate, this question is back with greater force than ever. This is why this subject is more important now than ever. In Jay Gould’s book

The Panda’s Thumb, an overview of and an argument for Charles Darwin’s evolutionary thinking is conducted with flowing thoughts and ideas. This essay titled “Natural Selection and the Human Brain: Darwin vs. Wallace” takes a look directly at two hard fought battles between evolutionists and creationists.

Using sexual selection and the origins of human intellect as his proponents, Gould argues his opinion in the favor of evolutionary thought.

In this essay titled “Natural Selection and The Human Brain: Darwin vs. Wallace,” Gould tells about the contest between Darwin and another prominent scientist named Alfred Wallace over two important subjects. These topics, one being sexual selection and the other about the origins of the human brain and

intellect were debated by men who generally held the same views on evolution. However on these two subjects, Wallace chose to differ as he described it as his “special heresy” (53). The first of these two areas of debate between the two men was the question of “sexual selection.” Darwin theorized that there

laid two types of sexual selection. First a competition between males for access to females and second the choice “exercised by females themselves” (51). In this, Darwin attributed racial differences among modern human beings to sexual selection “based upon different criteria of beauty that arose among various peoples” (51). Wallace, however, disputed the suggestion of female choice. He believed that animals were highly evolved and beautiful works of art, not allowing the suggestion of male competition to enter

his mind. The debate of sexual selection was but a mere precursor to a much more famous and important question . . The question of the origins of the human mind. Gould’s discussion of the origins of the human mind is

one that he in which he vocalizes his own opinions and feelings in a much more critical manner. Gould begins the topic of human origins by briefly criticizing Wallace for his different views on this subject. Wallace believed that human intellect and morality were unique and could not be the product of natural

selection. Wallace suggested that “some higher power” (53) must have “intervened to construct this latest and greatest of organic innovations.” Gould sharply chastises Wallace for “simple cowardice, for inability

to transcend the constraints of culture and traditional views of human uniqueness, and for inconsistency in advocating natural selection so strongly” (53). The argument that human intelligence was divine along with the belief that all people of all races have the same capacity of intellect, but are limited only by their culture was at the heart of Wallace’s opinions. Gould rebuts Wallace by going into Darwin’s “subtler view.” Gould writes that our brains may have “originated ‘for’ some set of necessary skills . . . but these

skills do not exhaust the limits of what such a complex machine can do” (57). Gould ends by describing Wallace’s thinking as having direct ties with creationist thought. A school of thought that Gould obviously portrays as wrong throughout his essay. Throughout The Panda’s Thumb, Gould tells us about the debate between Darwin and Wallace over sexual selection and the origins of human intellect. Throughout his essay Gould gives vivid accounts of the different views expressed by the two men as he analyzes the validity of each. He makes a clear opinion and backs up his claim. In this, Gould sufficiently argues his points that he makes. As a writer, Gould tells his opinion through clear and precise words in a style that anyone could grasp immediately.

To make his point unmistakable, Gould gives direct and continuous analysis, commentary, and criticism as he digs deeper into his subjects. Gould’s style of writing is not only appropriate, but is favorable for this type of discussion and can be applauded. Rather than submitting to a scientists ever present tendency to over explain and over analyze while using incomprehensible vocabulary, Gould gets the job done with brief yet fulfilling summaries and statements. In the end, however, Gould must be judged by his judgement. His argument is the ultimate standard bearer and in this there are few weaknesses. His excellent use of clear language and style as he analyzes a

particular subject is commendable. Never does Gould stray into incomprehensible scientific hog wash. Never does Gould let himself begin to attack mercilessly without a shred of evidence. But even with Gould’s excellent story telling in his essay, there remains subtler, yet still present weaknesses in his argument. While Gould appropriately attacks Wallace for his creationist stance on

human intellect, he in turn fails through his lack of creationist related discussions. While he does argue and does it well, he leaves something to be desired in his attack on creationist thought. In addition, Gould

doesn’t seem to write enough about Darwin’s own feelings about the human intellect, though he states Darwin’s underlying opinion, it would had been beneficial for Gould to have done more in this area. Jay Gould’s essay “Natural selection and the human brain” is one that strikes the readers mind with interest and curiosity. Written in a style and format that is “reader friendly” while sufficiently and consistently arguing a clear and precise point are the attributes that make Gould’s essay such a delight to read. More important, however, is the social implications of this essay. While school boards across the nation debate the subject of whether evolution should be taught in the schools, Gould’s work stands out with it’s overriding validity and straightforwardness. It is an example of reasonable argument as

evolution’s opponents use nothing but rhetoric and fear to displace scientific analysis. Through Gould’s work, a greater sense of understanding about how creatures evolved can be gained through these two excellent examples.


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